The key is often to be flirtatious rather than explicit, to intrigue rather than overwhelm. “Seduction is super-powerful – it draws you in, reaches into the depths of your imagination and asks dark and intimate questions,” says MissLED, who creates doe-eyed, graffiti-styled pin-up girls (missled.co.uk). “Blatant nudity and objectification for the sake of selling sex is pretty unsexy to me – there’s no entanglement or thought invoked. Vermeer’s Girl With The Pearl Earring is just seeping in powerful suggestion, for example. The confident but wide-eyed over-the-shoulder glance, the slightly parted moist lips. Hot. The folds of fabric, loose tendrils of hair, textures, delicate, almost fawning hands. Fetishistic maybe, but wonderfully sexy to me.”
Whether it's a cigarette, a lollipop or a jumble of curlers, MissLED uses props to give her character a backstory, a context - and a reason for existing
Flirtation in images is pretty similar to flirting in real life: it’s a game of dare and subversion, a sense of humour and a mischievous streak often come in handy. For many artists, humour is a vital tool for softening the impact of raunchy images.
Kerry Roper (youarebeautiful.co.uk) created his Girl Called Candy series using calling cards found in Soho phone boxes; he undercuts the cold, full-frontal explicitness of the photography by replacing heads with smiling-faced boiled sweets. The result is edgy, fun and thought-provoking – the nudity and S&M elements are anything but gratuitous.
Meanwhile, many artists turn to the flirty art of the past as a useful visual shorthand, mining pulp fiction covers, old advertising images, film posters and other genres to create sexy images that have a playful, slightly tongue-in-cheek feel; these images often implicitly compare and contrast our notion of what is sexy today with previous eras. Perhaps due to the ongoing trendiness of burlesque and all things 1950s retro, pin-up art is currently hugely popular.
Derek Santiago divides his own work into two categories: pin-ups and nudes. He highlights the charm of pin-up art: “Classic pinups are a bit more family-friendly, emoting innocent sexuality,” he says, listing essential pin-up characteristics as “vintage clothing, bold hairstyles, flowers, fun, and wearing a great smile.” He fuses these with everything from graffiti to airbrushing; he can’t decide whether his style should be tagged ‘Retro-future hybrid multicultural urban figurative pin up art’ or ‘high-tech Latin pin-ups’.
Derek Santiago employs the over-the-top poses of pin-up art with Pussy Cat From The Phillipines, also borrowing liberally from the genre for everything from framing to the flowers in the models’ hair.